The New York Jets are on the cusp of making their most important draft pick since they moved up in the 2009 NFL Draft to select quarterback Mark Sanchez. Since Sanchez’s short lived, occasionally successful but ultimately failed brief Jets career, the team has not taken an offensive player in the first round of the NFL Draft and has taken timid, meager swings at fixing the most important position in sports. This offseason that will change when they take a quarterback with the third overall pick (yes, they are 100% taking quarterback). As it stands today, there are three names generally considered to be in the running for the selection. How should the Jets go about making their decision when taking a closer examination of the differentiating factors between these quarterbacks?
Before diving into the three primary options, let’s discuss Sam Darnold, the presumptive first overall pick (and rumored second overall pick if the Cleveland Browns shock everybody and take Josh Allen). It is debatable whether Darnold is legitimately the best quarterback in this class but not surprising he is considered the consensus top pick. He checks every single box a traditional NFL GM wants to check when selecting a franchise quarterback. Darnold has prototypical size (6’4, 220 pounds), the ability to break the pocket and utilize his legs effectively, the arm to make every throw in the playbook and is only 20 years old. Beyond that, he is the “cleanest” prospect of the top quarterbacks. There is not a whisper of off the field concerns about him and he nearly made the front office/media complex pass out in adoration by staying behind to throw for his teammate’s pro day. He is a golden boy prospect, to many.Of course, no prospect is without their flaws and like we said previously, it isn’t even abundantly clear that Darnold is the top quarterback coming out. He took a step back with his accuracy last season and turns the football over with head turning frequency. Darnold is also far from mechanically perfect, which is understandable considering his age but concerning if he ends up in a shaky team situation in the NFL. This is worth a full watch on the good and bad with Darnold but here is a quick contrast.
This is a clean pocket, yet Darnold is hopping in place rather than progressing through his drop and footwork. After staring down one side of the field, he does progress back across the formation but doesn’t put his body into the throw, instead leaning only on his arm. This leads to a bad miss of a wide open target.
However, Darnold has demonstrated natural and unique anticipation when throwing the football. This deep crosser is one of the more challenging throws in a college or NFL playbook but Darnold stays in perfect rhythm and delivers into the open window with perfect timing. He has enough moments like this to convince any coaching staff that his lapses of mechanical inconsistency are fixable.
If Darnold isn’t the top quarterback in this class, who is? There are two other players you can make a case for: Josh Rosen (this blogger’s QB1) and Baker Mayfield.
Rosen is the best pure pocket passer in this class, who gradually improved his accuracy and ability to attack down the field despite a deteriorating supporting cast at UCLA. Similar to Darnold, Rosen can make every throw on the field. He also has the pocket presence of a player well beyond his years. While some people construe it as a negative, Rosen’s intellect will be a valuable asset to him at the next level and he appears to have a personality and make-up that compares favorably to other successful franchise quarterbacks. The off the field “concerns” around him seem to be overstated stretches but perception matters in the front office/media complex. Rosen is generally not seen as being as “clean” of a prospect as Darnold because of a hat he wore once, which may actually work out to benefit a team not picking first overall.
There are more valid concerns about Rosen, including the two concussions he received last season and a 2016 shoulder injury. Rosen has grown more into his frame but there are still concerns about his ability to protect himself and throw the football accurately on the run. He can also be careless with the football when trying to play too aggressive (26 interceptions in 30 starts).
And on the bad side, Rosen’s aggressiveness works both ways.Far too many poor decisions in his three years at UCLA#PFFDraft pic.twitter.com/o9cXGdsCHa
— Steve Palazzolo (@PFF_Steve) February 14, 2018
Despite these issues, Rosen is highly accurate when throwing down the field and can fit passes into windows that nobody else in this class can. When evaluating the total package, he is the most pro ready and should have the highest floor of any quarterback who is drafted in 2018.
Josh Rosen’s accuracy sets him apart from the other top QBs in this year’s draft class pic.twitter.com/wXfaG8MV70
— CFB Film Room (@CFBFilmRoom) February 14, 2018
— Joe Caporoso (@JCaporoso) April 5, 2018
Baker Mayfield is a less traditional quarterback prospect than Darnold or Rosen but that doesn’t mean he should be graded much lower than them, if lower at all. The Heisman Trophy winner has been knocked for his size, despite being one inch shorter than Aaron Rodgers and taller than both Drew Brees and Russell Wilson. He has also drawn lackadaisical comparisons to Johnny Manziel, despite a notably different background and off the field history. Mayfield’s cockiness/swagger has rubbed some the wrong way in the front office/media complex to the extent that it is clouding the judgement of what a gifted passer he actually is.
This is not a gimmick quarterback with limited arm strength who only thrived because of a spread system. Mayfield has the ability to attack all levels of the defense with a high level of accuracy and showed an ability to work through his reads before dropping perfectly placed downfield passes like this.
Despite working predominantly in a spread offense from the shotgun (by the way, three NFL playoff teams including the Super Bowl champs had their quarterback work out of shotgun on over 70% of their snaps), Mayfield was still able to thrive under pressure throughout his career. He also produced a college QBR and YPA that is astronomical compared to his recent peers.
Similar to Rosen and Darnold, Mayfield has a handful of flaws to balance with his positive traits. Despite being a strong improvisational player, Mayfield can get himself into trouble at times by holding the ball too long or looking to do too much instead of taking what the defense is giving him. He is a mechanically strong thrower but can be sloppy with his footwork when the pocket breaks down and he looks to reset his feet. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him take too many sacks early in his career.
One of the reasons to feel good about the Jets trade up to #3 is how tightly bunched together Darnold, Rosen and Mayfield are for being the top quarterback in the class. All three have a viable claim on being “QB1” and the Jets will have an opportunity to draft one of them, if not potentially pick from two of them.
The only potential roadblock to this would be the Jets misevaluating Josh Allen as being a superior prospect to one of the three quarterbacks above. Allen is a player with an intriguing physical skill set. He has prototypical size for the quarterback position, the strongest arm in the class and does not come with any character or off the field red flags. Despite all this, his body of work suggests he should be a day two pick that is a long term developmental gamble, rather than a top three selection who comes with the expectation of being a franchise quarterback sooner rather than later.
Accuracy is not something that frequently, if ever, is correctable when the competition improves. Allen had a career 56.2 completion percentage at Wyoming over two years as a starter, while regressing substantially in yards per attempt from his sophomore to junior season. Inaccuracy wasn’t a new trait Allen found at Wyoming, as he only completed 49% of his passes in junior college. Historically, the NFL has not been kind to quarterbacks entering the league with completion percentages comparable to Allen.
The rule holds up. The greatest quarterbacks since 2000 who never threw for 60 percent in any of their college seasons: Josh McCown, Tyrod Taylor, Shaun Hill, Derek Anderson, Brian Hoyer, and Kyle Boller. This rule doesn’t suggest to you that anyone who completes 61 percent of his passes in a season will be a star, but it does help you eliminate a wide swath of rough so you can keep sifting for diamonds.
From 2000 to 2017, the best quarterbacks to complete their college career with a completion percentage of less than 58 were Ken Dorsey, J.P. Losman, Jay Cutler, Kyle Boller, Matthew Stafford, Patrick Ramsey, and Tyrod Taylor. Most of these quarterbacks improved their completion percentage year-over-year and finished with a season near or above the magical 60 percent threshold.
Allen only started two seasons before entering the NFL Draft, and he saw his percentage tick from 56.0 to 56.3 in that time. For comparison’s sake, Lamar Jackson, another controversial prospect in this draft, also has a career completion percentage below 58 percent. But in three seasons, he’s improved from 54.7 to 56.2 to 60.4
Allen’s lack of supporting cast excuse doesn’t hold up well when comparing the percentage of dropped passes from his receivers to this year’s other top quarterbacks end neither does his “lack of short passes negatively impacting his completion percentage” excuse.
Target drop passes percentages:
Lamar Jackson – 8.5%
Baker Mayfield – 8.0%
Josh Rosen – 7.5%
Mason Rudolph – 6.6%
Josh Allen – 4.8%
Sam Darnold – 4.3%#SupportingCast
— J.R. (@JReidDraftScout) December 22, 2017
A popular defense of Josh Allen’s low completion % is that he didn’t throw screen passes. However, Allen threw a higher rate of passes 0-5 yards from the line of scrimmage (30%) than Darnold, Rosen & Mayfield: https://t.co/BjUJtOzU5F
— Evan Silva (@evansilva) April 9, 2018
There are larger concerns when you move away from completion percentage, particularly around Allen’s ability to process a defense and make quick decisions. He struggled substantially when the competition level increased on his college schedule, an alarming harbinger for when the speed and competition is up every single week in the NFL.
🚨🚨There’s a difference between being a thrower and playing QB in the #NFL. Josh Allen’s “acccuracy” doesn’t concern me, BUT, 🗣THIS DOES! @DawgsByNature @DawgPoundNation @EverythingNYG @JetsInsider #NFLDraft2018 #browns #NYGiants #NYJ pic.twitter.com/P6C6AcO5dz
— Dan Orlovsky (@danorlovsky7) April 9, 2018
Overall, despite his measurables Allen lags substantially behind Darnold, Rosen and Mayfield as an overall prospect. The Jets are not in a position to draft Allen, sit him on the bench for 2-3 seasons and hope that his mechanical and accuracy problems are solved. Ultimately, the team’s decision is most likely to come down to Rosen or Mayfield with Darnold likely being off the board before their selection. This is a good problem to have as a valid case can be made for either player. At the end of the day, it is more likely the Jets will go with the more traditional quarterback in Rosen, who appears to have both the higher floor and ceiling. However, if Rosen is not there or the Jets pivot to go with Mayfield, it is a justifiable pick that fans should be excited for.
Photo Credit: NFL.com